Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Guiding Bear Viewing Trips in Alaska

I spent a good part of the summers throughout the 1980's photographing brown bears at various locations in Alaska, mostly in Denali and Katmai National parks and at the McNeil River Sanctuary on the Alaska Peninsula.  That work laid the foundation for producing our Bears Of The World book.  It also put me into contact with many of the best professional wildlife photographers of that time. Many of us wound up at the best hotspots for bear photography at the same time and thus became friends really by coincidence. If it wasn't for bears we might never have met.

One such friend is Matt Breiter.  He had been guiding bear viewing trips for a Boulder, Colorado organization call Natural Habitat Adventures, or Nathab for short.  Starting in the summer of 2002 he set me up with them to guide brown bear viewing trips on the outer Katmai National Park coast, north of Kodiak Island across Shelikof Strait. I was comfortable around most wildlife, including bears, so the pairing with Nathab for these trips made sense. Groups of up to six clients would fly in to tiny Kodiak Airport by jet from Anchorage and there I would meet them and arrange to have them flown by floatplane across Shelikof Strait to meet up with and be transferred aboard a 70 foot converted tugboat called the M/V Waters, captained by  John Rogers. Each trip lasted four days. John's job was to ferry everyone around the coast of Halo Bay
which borders the southwest region of Katmai National Park.  My job was to bring the clients ashore each day and to wander around with them, showing them brown bears up close and personal. It was an easy and exciting job.

During the summer months the bears are everywhere along that coast, eating grass, fishing for salmon, digging up clams, lounging and playing.  And best of all they are very tolerant of humans.  It is true that the bears got some bad press when Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed by one on that coast, but most experts agree that he was not behaving rationally around the bears and given that, that the tragedy was inevitable. With a little caution and some common sense bear viewing on the Katmai Coast is quite safe.

Late one afternoon I took my six clients wandering up a side creek that happened to be full of salmon.  I always keep the people in a fairly tight group with strict instructions to never run from a bear no matter what.
There is no way for a human to outrun a bear and running may trigger a bear's pursuit and attack instinct.

As we walked along the creek a mother bear and her two spring cubs came walking up the same path, wanting to pass us.  I kept the people calm and let the mother walk on by.  But the two little cubs, weighing perhaps 30 pounds each, became very curious and approached to within four feet of our group. I won't lie and claim that I never get nervous in these situations. My heart races like everyone else's.  But I do have to keep things together. So I picked up some pebbles and tossed them at the cubs,  with their mother nearby, and they backed off.  When they tried a second time to approach I told them firmly, "No!", and raised my hand slightly. That was enough and mother and cubs kept on their way.

Thirty minutes later we stood on one side of the creek and watched a large bear on the opposite bank searching for fish in the rapidly flowing water. The creek at that point was about forty feet wide or so.
I almost always carry my Nikon camera with an 80-400mm zoom lens when guiding bear trips. Just in case I have time for grab shots. Naturally the clients are my first responsibility, but bear viewing involves a lot of standing around and watching and waiting and there is often time for me to take some quick photographs while my clients are doing the same.  This was one of those moments. The bear suddenly launched himself into the creek in what appeared initially like a charge right at us and at that instant I reflexively raised the camera and shot.  As a group we flinched a little but soon realized that the bear was aiming for a salmon and not us.

Mark Newman

Monday, 27 June 2011

Life and Death in Masai Mara

The above scene is not at all unusual in the great African landscape.  A photographer friend, Martin Grosnick, and I traveled to Kenya in 1994.  It was our second trip over there together.  We were mainly interested in observing and photographing Africa's big cats and there is no better place on the Dark Continent to do that than at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. It was set aside as a wildlife sanctuary in 1948 and covers 583 square miles, with an effective reach that is much larger since it is contiguous with Serengeti National Park on its southern border.

Martin and I camped for nearly two months at the northern end of 'the Mara', as the sanctuary is known locally, near Musiara Swamp. We were there in one of the dry seasons, from February through March, and had perfect weather for photographing. And we had the campsite to ourselves, except for an occasional Maasai tribesman who might wander over to our campfire after dark.

Virtually every morning at sunrise or soon afterwards, driving our own rented 4 wheel drive vehicle,  we were able to locate one of the three species of big cats--lion, leopard and cheetah--and sometimes all three.  Whichever species we located we would stay with for hours, until it became so hot that they bedded down during the heat of the day. We were mainly interested in observing hunting activity and with lions and leopards the hunts occurred invariably in early morning (or during the night when we were back in camp).  Cheetahs, however, can be active all day. They are more heat tolerant. 

During our two months on the Mara we were able to observe cheetahs hunting on nine different occasions. We captured several of those hunts on film.  The most startling one is depicted in the image above.  The mother cheetah had three half-grown cubs.  That's a lot of hungry mouths to feed. But she was not interested in simply feeding the cubs.  She needed also to be training them to hunt so they could eventually survive on their own.  When she spotted a Thomson's gazelle and it's fawn she left her cubs behind and took off in lightning-fast pursuit.  The cheetah, even when running at 60 mph, was outmaneuvered by the adult gazelle who managed to escape. But the gazelle's fawn was left behind and did not do a good enough job of hiding in the short grass. The mother cheetah soon discovered the baby Tommy and we expected to see a bloody and quick finale to the episode. But such was not the case.

The mother cheetah held the Tommy gently in her jaws and waited for her three rambunctious cubs to catch up with her. She then released the fawn and stepped back and what ensued would seem comical if it was not so deadly. The three young cheetahs pawed at the Tommy and chased the fawn around and around, repeatedly getting out of breath and having to take a break. It was obvious that the cubs did not yet know how to kill. The fawn was a toy for them. They did not even try to bite it.  They seemed to only know how to use their paws and not their mouths.  After about twenty minutes of patient observation, the mother cheetah finally stepped back into the scene and delivered the inevitable coup de grace. 

Mark Newman

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Jungles of Borneo

In 1987 I teamed up with writer Terry Domico to collaborate on a book about the eight species of bears in the world.  I had already accumulated a decade of photographs documenting the three North American species.  Pursuing images of the remaining five species would prove more challenging and launched us on an odyssey that eventually had us roaming the jungles of Borneo in search of the elusive Malaysian Sun Bear.

Borneo, located north of Australia, is the third largest island in the world.  It is made up of three countries--Brunei and Malaysia in the north, and Indonesia in the south.  While still back in the US we read all we could about sun bears and knew they lived on the island.  So we bought plane tickets and flew into the capital city of Brunei, located in the north central part of the huge island.  It did not take us long after landing to realize we had chosen the wrong country to explore so we hopped on another plane and headed east into the Malaysian state of Sabah.  In Sabah's poetic sounding capital of Kota Kinabalu we sought out park service personnel and were advised to visit Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Sun Bears and orangutans share the same jungle habitat.

The sanctuary, encompassing old growth Dipterocarp forest, was established to protect a wild population of orangutans and to rehabilitate those that had been confiscated from poachers. Terry and I were given permission to camp on the edge of the sanctuary.  After setting up my tent I took out a spray can of water repellent and sprayed the tent's rain fly.  When I tossed the can on to the ground an orangutan appeared out of the forest and came over and picked it up.  She proceeded to go through the motions of spraying the tent in obvious imitation of what I had just done. Then she easily crushed the metal can in her hand before slowly disappearing back into the darkness of the trees.
Early the next morning I headed into the jungle alone.  After about thirty minutes of walking something silently grabbed my left hand.  I turned and jumped at the same time.  It was an adult orangutan. I yanked my arm to try to get free but this only caused her to tighten her grip. The harder I pulled the tighter her grip became. She seemed calm--certainly calmer than I was at that moment--and she was determined to lead me down a trail through the jungle. I had no choice but to go along.  My heart was racing.  After about fifty yards of strolling together I could feel her grip loosen and I yanked free. I ran back in the same direction we had just come from and stopped when I thought I was a safe distance. Orangutans move very slowly on the ground and I knew there was no chance of her overtaking me again. We stood and looked at each other for a few minutes before she continued on her way and out of sight.  I made it back camp in a rather stunned state of mind.

Later that same afternoon I was able to photograph a Pied Hornbill, and a group of Pig-tailed Macaques finally presented me with the best photographic opportunity of the day, the image at the beginning of this blog.

Mark Newman

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Russia At The Time of the Fall

It is rare for me to photograph urban scenes and even more unusual to be photographing in Europe. It was the summer of 1991 and I was asked by a New York publisher to travel to Siberia and photograph for a book about the natural history of Siberia. The publisher got me together with a writer named David Matlock, who happened to also be the son of the then US ambassador to the USSR, John Matlock.  

We met for the first time in Moscow.  That came about because in those days, when the USSR was still Communist and tightly regulated, if one was a tourist trying to see the huge country, it was not possible to fly directly west from my home in Anchorage, Alaska to the eastern Siberian coast. The Russian nuclear fleet was stationed there and it was strictly off limits.   Instead I had to fly east, literally all around the globe, nearly the full 24,000 mile circumference, in order to explore Siberia. Today it seems ridiculous, but that was the reality of 1991.

On my lengthy  trip west I got to stop in Moscow. There I met up with David Matlock and we stayed at the palacial home of his dad, the ambassador.

On the wall of the room that I was assigned to sleep in I saw a photo of an incredibly ornate and beautiful Disneyland-like building. When I inquired about it I was informed that it was called St. Basil's Cathedral and was within walking distance.  So that evening I took my tripod and camera and strolled over to Red Square, adjacent to the Kremlin, and captured the photo above.

A month and a half later, in mid-August, when we were traveling by boat on the Lena River in a remote part of Siberia, we heard the first reports that there was an attempted coup by right-wingers within the government who opposed Gorbachev's liberal reforms.  Most of the action was occurring  right where I had been standing and photographing peacefully on that July night that I thought was so tranquil.

Mark Newman

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Galapagos Islands--In Darwin's Footsteps

Darwin only spent 35 days sailing around the Galapagos Islands, but in that brief period he made observations and gathered data that would lead to his monumental publication decades later. If Darwin and the HMS Beagle had not visited this now most famous of archipelagos in 1835, these volcanic islands probably would not have the world's attention as they do today.

Most of the almost 200,000 annual visitors arrange in advance for very expensive cruises around the islands. The only way to visit the islands is by boat and the Ecuadorian government requires--rightfully so, considering the environment's extreme fragility--that all tourists be accompanied by a Galapagos National Park guide.

My friend, Dave McCargo, and I, traveling on the usual shoestring budget, arranged nothing in advance and flew from Quito to the islands with nothing organized--neither a place to stay nor a pre-booked wildlife viewing boat cruise. Upon arrival we made our way to the town of Puerto Ayora at the southern end of Santa Cruz Island and through word of mouth located a hostel for $8 per day.  That became our home base for the next 36 days.   Using local bus transportation we were able to easily reach a tortoise sanctuary up island adjacent to some ranchland where we could hike extensively and photograph the giant tortoises without supervision (while picking and eating passion fruits along the trail). 

This was very idyllic, but we still needed to find a boat to take us to the other islands to visit the many endemic species.  This proved to not be a problem.  Some boats didn't fill their quotas so the captains sent crew members to wander around Puerto Ayora in search of customers. They practically beat down the door to our hostel with offers for island cruises at bargain basement prices. After a week on Santa Cruz we signed up and did the tourist thing for the next seven days, visiting some of the very locations where Darwin had landed.  We encountered the entire cast of characters--marine and land  iguanas, frigatebirds, boobies of various varieties, sea lions, penguins, finches we couldn't identify, flamingos, flightess cormorants, a vermilion flycatcher, and sea turtles.

We spent the two weeks after the cruise backpacking on Isabela Island, hiking to the rim of Sierra Negra volcano, the second largest caldera in the world after Ngorongoro, and even climbing down to it's enormous floor. We encountered a pair of Galapagos hawks on the rim where we set up our tents.

After some additional adventuring in the islands, some of it by kayak, we felt ready to return to the mainland.  By that time we were approaching the same length of time that Darwin had stayed in the Galapagos so we thought what the hell and stayed a 36th day before boarding the jet back to Quito.

Within the next year I will be publishing a book about my travels in the Galapagos and contrasting my experiences with those of Darwin in 1835.

Mark Newman

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The World's Greatest Waterfall

Upon returning to Ushuaia from Antarctica we decided to spend some time exploring the Patagonia region of South America. Using planes, buses and rented cars we were able to reach many of the mountainous and glaciated wilderness areas that Patagonia is famous for.  But always in the back of our minds was the allure of the great waterfall to the north, beyond Patagonia and into the rainforest jungle.  From Buenos Aires we flew to the location where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina all come together. At this spot the Iguazu River rushes over the Parana Plateau forming almost 300 separate cataracts over a 1.7 mile stretch of cliffs.

Iguazu is not as high as Venezuela's Angel Falls, nor as famous as Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border.  It is not even rated as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. But this is an oversight. It is certainly the most awe inspiring falls that I have ever seen, far superior to Victoria Falls in emotional impact.
Think Niagara and then multiply that a hundred fold plus ad exotic jungle. That will give you some idea of the feeling when in the presence of Iguazu.

As a bonus you can wade in some of the shallows below the falls. We did this and had small fish by the hundreds pecking at our legs. To complete the Iguazu experience I took a brief helicopter ride over the falls and was able to photograph a rainbow that was created by the rising mist.

When boarding a bus from the falls back to our campsite I absentmindedly left my backpack with camera gear on a nearby bench.  Potential disaster.  But one of the locals hurried on to the bus carrying my pack and returning it with a big smile. 

Mark Newman

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Kangaroos and The Land Down Under

On my first trip to Australia my writing partner and I bought an old yellow Volkswagen Passat and called it The Last Thylacine, after the famous, probably-extinct Tasmanian Tiger.  Our assignment was to produce a book about all the species of kangaroos, of which there are over fifty. We drove the Last Thylacine all over New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. We even ferried further south to the island of Tasmania where we encountered a private zoo full of Tasmanian devils, the largest species of surviving marsupials. The zoo owner, and a few scientists, are convinced that Tasmanian tigers (aka thylacines) still exist on a remote wilderness corner of the island but no definitive proof has ever been offered for such a claim.              

  Prior to traveling to the 'island continent' I had had no idea that Australia hosts so many poisonous and dangerous species.  It has the most venomous snakes in the world (one, the inland Taipan, is nicknamed the two-step snake for obvious reasons), the most poisonous spider (the funnel-web), the most deadly jellyfish (the box jellyfish), and aggressive crocodiles that have been known to drag campers out of their tents.  I spent nights around campfires when out of the pitch darkness a four foot goana lizard would appear looking for a meal.  I have also shared those campfires with gray kangaroos that seemed to like the brightness of the flames and were impervious to flying sparks.

Meals in Australia were sometimes an adventure in themselves.  Once we bought sliced lunch meat at a deli and let it sit in the incredibly hot car for a day before making sandwiches. I remember laying out the slices of bread on top of the car and then, without paying much attention to what I was doing, throwing a few slices of ham on to the bread and then putting the top slices of bread in place.  As my partner and I were about to pick up the sandwiches off the car roof the top slices of bread started moving. We watched in disbelief before finally lifting off the top slices to have a look.  Maggots had hatched out in the heat and were crawling all over the meat.

The best and most exciting photographs that I captured during those first two months in Australia were taken at Pebbly Beach in Murramarong National Park in New South Wales.  I got out of my tent before sunrise and walked along the beach. No one else was out and about yet.  I came across several gray kangaroos and two of them began to leap at each other and fight. They kick at each other's chests, making a 'thwumping' sound as they make contact. They have big claw-like nails on those feet that could tear open a person, but their own skin is adapted to take the blows.  When it became light enough I started shooting pictures. In those days of still using film I had to push process the film to an ISO of 800 in order to be able to shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action. The film I used was Fijichrome 100.  One of the images from that sequence appeared on the cover of our book, Kangaross: The Marvelous Mob

Mark Newman

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Antarctic Journey

Travels to Antarctica have certainly come a long way since Shackleton's day.  Now anyone who is willing to part with a small fortune can get him- or herself to the vast southern continent with ease and in relative comfort.  It is no longer necessary to risk life and limb to observe penguins in the wild.  You don't even have to miss a single meal. Just hop on a ship out of Ushuaia at the southern end of South America and in a day or so you'll be amongst huge icebergs, leopard seals and tens of thousands of penguins.

I joined about 70 other people aboard a Canadian icebreaker on it's maiden Antarctic voyage and the worst I had to contend with was seasickness for 24 hours.  Many others fared similarly, some suddenly upchucking while waiting in the cafeteria line.  But after a day or so at sea everyone seemed to adapt and the initial discomforts were a price certainly worth paying for access to this spectacular region.

Late one afternoon our ship was anchored just offshore of the Antarctic Peninsula.  Most people were in a party atmosphere and there was little interest in going ashore where it was overcast and windy.  A photographer buddy and I finally managed to talk the captain into allowing us to go on land, but for only one hour.  The captain sent an inflatable boat to take us ashore. It was during this short time that I captured my best penguin images of the entire trip, including the one above and on my facebook page.

Mark Newman

Monday, 20 June 2011

African Encounters

Amboseli National Park on the Kenya-Tanzania border is perhaps the most spectacular place in Africa where one can easily observe elephants.  The backdrop to this 150 square mile park is Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.  It's the mountain that Ernest Hemingway famously referred to as "...As high and wide as all the world."  

For my first visit to this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve I was still shooting a film camera. In those pre-digital days I used to carry hundreds of rolls of film with me.  On this particular trip I had 400 rolls along. I shudder now to think back on the logistics of lugging that much film through airports, always asking for hand check-ins to avoid getting the film radiated.

Many visitors to the African parks stayed in glamorous lodges with swimming pools and servants, but my fellow photographers and I always opted to camp. In Amboseli, where this elephant photograph was taken, the campground was well maintained and fenced for protection from the animals.  But there were times in other Kenyan wildlife parks--specifically in Masai Mara Game Reserve--where we would set up our tents in a remote area of the park and be entirely out in the open with no fences. We once camped in such a spot for one month straight and it took a full week to get used to having lions wander nearby and roar in the night.  When buffalo would butt heads in the darkness we hoped they would not overrun our tents.

Mark Newman

Friday, 17 June 2011

Photographing Polar Bears

             I have always loved all forms of wildlife and over the past 30 years have traveled to the seven continents to observe and photograph many different species. As you would expect, polar bear photography involves dealing with some of the harshest weather anywhere. Most of my polar bear images were shot during late fall trips to Churchill, Manitoba on the western shore of Hudson Bay, a region known as ‘the polar bear capital of the world’. Hundreds of bears congregate along the shoreline, waiting for the ice to freeze so they can head out to hunt seals.
            On my first polar bear trip a friend and I simply rented a pickup truck and drove around the frozen tundra looking for bears. This was not the most efficient way to get photographs but it was certainly exciting. One polar bear came around the passenger side of the pickup and pounded on the window with his paws forcing us to drive off rapidly. Another climbed into the back of the truck as we watched from a safe distance. Temperatures fell below -50F with wind chill. Warm clothing was as important as good camera gear. I never could keep my fingers warm and they often became so numb that I couldn’t feel the shutter release button.
            On a subsequent visit I went the traditional route and utilized the safe and comfortable ‘tundra buggy’ from which to take pictures. These vehicles are half again as tall as a standing bear and move around the tundra on huge oversize tires. Not as exciting as a pickup truck, but much more practical for quality photography.
            There were certain pictures I could not obtain in the wild so I turned to various zoos for help. Some zoos have modern polar bear exhibits with large pools allowing for underwater observation. The bears don’t play in the water all day, but after repeated visits to multiple zoos I was able to obtain some excellent underwater imagery.
            And then there was Ahpun, an orphaned female polar bear cub who was rescued and brought for care to the zoo in my home town of Anchorage, Alaska. She was barely four months old and weighed only 31 pounds when she arrived in Springtime.  She needed ‘round the clock attention and the small zoo didn’t have enough professional staff for this at the time. So volunteers were utilized to watch the little bear during the daytime. I spent several memorable days volunteering to be keeper, playing with the cub and at the same time taking advantage of the photo ops. 
            I hope you enjoy seeing these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Mark Newman

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Winter's Drive--Into The Yukon Night

Past winters involved driving through cold, but nothing like this. The road was clear and not itself a problem. The challenge was internal. I left Anchorage at 6 AM and about three hours into the drive, when the temperature was still reasonable at just -2F, I pulled over for a thirty minute nap. No big deal yet. Then I continued further into the Yukon and things got colder. Minus 5, minus 10, minus 15.  Still not too scary and when it got light at 10 AM, driving along listening to audio books was quite pleasant.  At 200 miles out I made it through the town of Glenallen.  At 300 miles was the equally small town of Tok. I gassed up there and headed toward the Canadian border.

By 4 PM it was dark and getting colder. The car started to creak. The side windows frosted over on the inside. I put on my thermal pants and heavy overcoat over my other warm coat. I already was wearing sorrels and gloves. The audio book about Thomas Pain was still going.  At the last gas station on the US side I topped off the tank just to be safe and chatted with the attendant. I asked him the coldest temp he had ever seen out this way. He said minus 68.  He also said it was cold enough right now. The current temp was minus 31.

There were no vehicles on the road except for an occasional commercial truck. I finally reached the Canadian Customs station and rolled down the window. It was so cold by this time that the electric window moved in slow motion.  I asked the officer what the temperature was and she checked and said minus 40.  That's the temperature at which I had heard trees explode outside Whitehorse three years earlier.  I told her the window in the car was barely working and she replied that everything slowed down at minus 40. I handed her my passport and she ran the usual check. Then she asked whether I had any firearms, tobacco, or alcohol. I said no. She handed me back the passport and was about to continue the interview when she said, "I can't remember what I was going to ask. Just go."  That's what happens to the brain at forty below. 

 I continued down the Alaska Highway toward Whitehorse, still 300 miles away. Until things hit minus 40 I was a bit concerned but not yet panicked.  I have a car thermometer that gives the outside temperature. It requires a flashlight to see it at night. I now started looking at it every five minutes. I was getting nervous. When I went over frost heaves in the road the car's suspension gave out ominous sounding squeaks and groans. I wondered if car parts would crack if things got any colder. I figured it couldn't really get much colder. I kept going. Twenty miles past the Customs station the thermometer showed minus 41.  I got a bit more nervous.  Then minus 42. Minus 43. I was starting to panic and forced myself to take some deep breaths. I almost turned around to drive back to the safety of the Customs station. I was also getting a little sleepy but didn't dare stop the car. What if it wouldn't restart? Instead I pulled over and switched the audio book CD from the Thomas Paine biography to a more adrenalinized John Grisham book.  I also starting sipping the emergency Red Bull drink that I had brought along, for the caffeine. Those maneuvers helped and I was no longer sleepy. Plus I was getting too scared to stay sleepy.  Minus 44. Minus 45.  I thought, "Holy Shit, this can't be real."  These were Jack London temperatures. As I drove along I ran through in my head what I had for emergencies. Two down sleeping bags, each rated to -35. Candle lantern to warm the inside of the car. Propane stove. Vapor barrier bunny boots. Cheese and peanut butter for calories. Flashlights. Snow shoes. Plenty of warm clothes. Should make it no matter what until I could flag down another vehicle if my car stopped running.  Nothing to panic about. Calm down. Minus 46. I was on the outskirts of Kluane National Park when the temperature bottomed out at minus 47 before starting to slowly rise again. 

Mark Newman

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Bears and Salmon in Alaska

Brooks Falls in Alaska's Katmai National Park is well known for it's gathering of brown bears when the salmon are running, especially during the month of July.  The salmon seem to push upstream in pulses so that minutes can go by where not a single fish jumps and then all of a sudden they start breaking the surface like popcorn, one after another and sometimes in groups like the photo above shows.  The bears position themselves along the top of the falls and wait for a fish to come near enough to grab. Catching one is not as easy as it appears. Some bears are more skilled than others at the technique.  And some choose instead to stand near the base of the falls and try to catch the salmon before they make their swim upstream.

The falls can be reached by flying commercially from Anchorage, Alaska,  to King Salmon and from there going seat fare in the various small floatplanes that provide transportation to the park.  There's a campground and also a lodge at the park as well as a restaurant.  Viewing platforms allow for easy photography at the Falls.  The park has rarely encountered any "bear incidents" but with the bears wandering everywhere a certain amount of common sense and etiquette is required of visitors.

There are so many bears around that you can get good photographs with almost any lens.  For true closeups, though, I recommend at least a 300mm focal length and 500mm for head shots. There is often the opportunity to photograph fishermen, bears and float planes all in the same image.

Mark Newman

Monday, 13 June 2011

How To Get Lucky and Write a Polar Bear Book

It was actually through a sequence of coincidences that my Polar Bears book came into being.

I have loved all forms of wildlife and wilderness for as long back as I can remember. Ever since the mid-1970's I have been traveling to wild places and photographing the landscapes and natural inhabitants of remote regions. I have always been restless and find it hard to sit still for long.  So travel photography suited my personality from the get-go. This pursuit has taken me to all seven continents and resulted in my moving with my family to Alaska in 1981, after having spent a few years roaming around the parks of the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.

Once in the Far North it is inevitable that a nature photographer will wind up photographing bears at least some of the time. Bears are the North's most charismatic creatures and I certainly could not resist their allure. I photographed brown bears first in Denali National Park and then along the Alaskan coast at the McNeil River Sanctuary. Each summer throughout the 1980's I gravitated to where the bears congregated to feed on plentiful and reliable runs of salmon. I shot many thousands of images and never tired of being out in the field with these large bruins. Every day was different and exciting.

The first lucky coincidence came when, in 1986, one of the photo agencies I worked with at the time introduced me to a book agent named Ivy Stone, from New York City. She suggested that a writer colleague and I collaborate on a book about all the eight bear species in the world. I eagerly agreed to the assignment and for the next few years we traveled farther and wider than I ever had before, from the jungles of Borneo to the subarctic shores of Churchill in Manitoba.  We researched and photographed sun bears, black bears, moon bears, sloth bears, plenty of brown bears, spectacled bears, giant pandas--and polar bears. Our book, entitled Bears Of The World, was released in 1988 and since then has gone through six printings in several languages and become a natural history bestseller.

After its publication I returned to the life of a generalist nature photographer, not concentrating on any one animal or topic or location. I resumed my usual modus operandi of supplying fifteen stock photo agencies in eight countries with a steady supply of wildlife and scenic images. I continued to photograph bears as well as many other critters.  For three summers I even guided bear viewing trips along the outer Katmai coast of Alaska. In 2003 I returned to Churchill in Canada to once again photograph polar bears.

Four years later a second lucky coincidence happened.  After being out of touch for fourteen years, Ivy Stone wrote me a letter out of the blue.  She suggested that I write a children's book on polar bears. She thought the timing was right, with global warming being in the news virtually every day. At this point Ivy was retired as a book agent and she referred me to her colleague, Carolyn French.  Carolyn was quite interested in the concept and so I got to work.

 I already had most of the images I would need for such a book. I reviewed my photo files and selected the best and most appropriate photos and then got on the Internet and read all I could find about polar bears. As you would expect, there was  a wealth of information. I gleaned the most interesting and current facts  and wrote the text in language that I felt would be suitable for young children. The wonderful staff at Henry Holt Books For Young Readers suggested the clever format of introducing each section with a simple sentence in large bold print, followed by a more detailed paragraph. A young child could read the bold print and an adult could read the additional paragraph of text. I limited the number of words to fit into the allotted  32 pages and the book was born. 

In San Francisco this past winter I visited a classroom of first graders as a guest author.  The teacher read my book to the class of  25 students and it was gratifying to see the enthusiastic response and eagerness to learn on the children's faces.  They were enchanted by both the words and photographs and I was thrilled to see such a reaction.

I hope I encounter a lot more lucky coincidences in my life that lead to a lot more book projects!

Mark Newman

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Brown Bears at the Waterfall

After years of living in Alaska and photographing bears in various locations I had in mind a special shot when I flew by float plane to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. Specifically I wanted to use a slow shutter speed so the falls would appear as a curtain.  This requires shooting at 1/15 second or less, which means that the bears have to cooperate and stand still for that length of time so they won't appeared blurred.   This was in the years before motion stabilizing lenses were invented so I had to use a tripod, something that I have mostly given up today except for night shooting.  I have always used Nikon equipment and for this image I used a 300mm lens.  I don't remember the shutter speed exactly, but I believe it was even less than 1/15 second, perhaps 1/4 second. I took a series of images and the bears appeared the sharpest in this one. 

Mark Newman

GOLDEN-The Novel

Although depicted here with a smartphone, my new eBook novel about a wild horse and a girl does not require any high tech devices to download and read. Any computer will do.

It is easy to read kindle eBooks on any PC by downloading simple freeware from Amazon No need to have special devices. Kindle freeware for Mac is at
GOLDEN, is now available as an eBook


Saturday, 11 June 2011

New children's polar bear book

I have a recently released a polar bear book which is geared toward children but has information that even adults will appreciate. The photographs were mostly taken in the subarctic region of Churchill, Manitoba along the shores of Hudson Bay where many polar bears congregate in late Fall awaiting the freezeup so they can go out on to the ice and hunt ringed seals. Here's the Amazon link 

Mark Newman

Friday, 10 June 2011

Reading kindle books on any computer

I just learned today that it is easy to read kindle eBooks on any PC by downloading simple freeware from Amazon at this link
No need to have special devices. Kindle freeware for Mac is also avaialble at

My new novel, GOLDEN, is now avaialable as an eBook


My new novel about a wild horse

Just letting all of you know about the eBook publication of my new young adult novel, GOLDEN, about the life of a wild horse in western Wyoming. It's now available for upload from Amazon and   My other new book, Polar Bears, is also available from Amazon in print version

GOLDEN has it's own Facebook page and my personal facebook page is featuring new dramatic wildlife images every day.